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Boone's injury leaves gaping hole for Yanks

NEW YORK -- When A's GM Billy Beane first heard that Aaron Boone might be out for the entire season -- and that the Yankees are suddenly minus a
front-line third baseman -- he immediately reached for the phone to call counterpart Brian Cashman. Beane can smell panic 3,000 miles away, and his every instinct suggested now was the time to exploit the Yankees.

After all, the Bombers have virtually no replacement for Boone, which
is why Beane almost started dialing Cashman's number. The A's have exactly
what the Yankees need -- Eric Chavez, who's only a year away from free agency and like Jason Giambi and Miguel Tejada before him, on his way to cashing a lottery ticket Beane probably can't afford to pay.

Would the Yankees be interested in Chavez? You don't even have to ask.

But would the A's even consider such a deal? Beane thought about it Monday
night -- and then thought better.

"There's no one this side of Mickey Mantle we'd consider trading Eric
Chavez for," Beane finally decided. "He's more valuable than anything we
could get in return."

Beane meant no disrespect to the American League champs, but his
decision to not call Cashman sent a clear message: even in their moment of
crisis, the Yankees have nothing that would interest the A's: no affordable
starting talent, and nothing in the farm system, either.

And that's the greater problem the Yankees face in the coming weeks: how
do they find another third baseman with spring training only three weeks
away? The club's most immediate option is to audition recent acquisition
Miguel Cairo and/or Enrique Wilson, or even Erick Almonte, but few baseball people believe the Yankees will be satisfied with such modest choices.

And certainly, the Bombers have no realistic hope that Drew Henson can help them. "He's not even being considered," is how one Yankee official
characterized the former Michigan quarterback's standing with the club.
Henson struck out 122 times at Triple-A Columbus last year, batting .234
while committing 28 errors.

Instead, the search will inevitably be conducted outside the
organization. A realistic possibility is Edgardo Alfonzo, a former Met who, despite a bulky contract (three years to go on a four-year, $26 million
deal) has told friends he wants to return to New York. Another possibility
is free agent Jose Hernandez, although his cachet diminished considerably
after he batted just .225 with the Pirates in 2003, striking out 177 times
in 519 at-bats.

Of course, it's also possible the Yankees will wait out the first half
of the season and hope for a deal by the July 31 deadline. But like the A's,
the Bombers would be hard-pressed to satisfy the demands of, say, the
Angels, who might lose Troy Glaus to free agency in 2005, or the Twins (Corey Koskie) or the Expos (Orlando Cabrera).

Of course, no one has yet concluded that Boone's season is over, at
least not until the medical tests are complete. Cashman indicated the third
baseman would likely "fly all over the country" to see a number of
specialists in the next two weeks. That explains why the Yankees never
formally announced Boone's injury to the public. Until Monday, the club was
hoping to learn just how badly damaged Boone's left knee is before deciding
how to replace him, and what disciplinary action to take.

Privately, though, executives were startled that Boone was so
forthcoming about how he tore his anterior cruciate ligament. Considering he
was injured in a pick-up basketball game, a clear violation of his contract,
Boone is in danger of being released by the Yankees and having his $5.75
million salary voided. In this case, Boone's honesty could prove to be
expensive.

Said one Yankee executive, "do you know how often GMs hear from a
player, "I hurt myself on the treadmill?" And you're like, "right." But when
a guy says that, there's nothing you can do."

Instead, Boone called the Yankees last week and confessed he'd suffered the
injury on January 16. His agent, Adam Katz, told Newsday, "(Boone) was
looking for an alternative to the treadmill and jumped into a pick-up game."

Katz went on to say, "Money hasn't been discussed yet, we're dealing
with Aaron's health." But the Yankees said there's "no doubt" they could
successfully void Boone's contract, if they so choose. If so, the club would
be liable for only 30 days' termination pay, or slightly under $1 million.

Boone's place in Bronx history seemed secure, at least until now.
Despite an anemic postseason performance (9-for-53 with 15 strikeouts), the
third baseman ended the most dramatic Yankees playoff game in the last
quarter century, slamming an 11th-inning HR off Tim Wakefield in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series. Boone later called it, "the kind of thing you dream about when you're a kid."

By sending the Yankees to the World Series instead of the Red Sox,
Boone earned enough political capital to justify another one-year contract.
Still, club officials were disappointed that, following the midseason deal
with the Reds, Boone gave them so little in return for prospect Brandon Claussen.

The Yankees were hoping a full year in New York would've allowed Boone
to relax in pinstripes. As it turns out, that was just a pipedream, too.

Bob Klapisch of The Record (Bergen County, N.J.) covers baseball for ESPN.com.